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BOE Mulls Plastic Banknotes to Combat Fraud and Boost Durability

BOE Mulls Plastic Banknotes to Combat Fraud and Boost Durability
Sample Polymer five and ten pound British banknotes sit on display during a news conference at the Bank of England in London. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The Bank of England is considering a switch from paper to plastic banknotes, and plans to ask Britons for their opinion on such a move.

Announcing a public consultation in London today, BOE Governor Mark Carney said polymer notes are cleaner, more secure and more durable than paper notes. The central bank will announce its decision in December and, if the move goes ahead, the first plastic notes could appear as soon as 2016 and feature a picture of Winston Churchill.

“The Bank of England would print notes on polymer only if we were persuaded that the public would continue to have confidence in, and be comfortable with, our notes,” Carney said. The consultation will be “vital” to the assessment.

A number of countries already produce plastic notes, including Canada, where Carney was previously the central bank governor. Banknotes are currently manufactured from cotton fibre and linen rag and printed by De La Rue Plc at the BOE’s Debden site in Essex in a contract due to end in 2015. A tender process is under way to replace that.

Victoria Cleland, head of the BOE’s Notes Division, said De La Rue’s contract to print banknotes is valued at about 30 million pounds ($47 million) to 40 million pounds a year.

The BOE has been researching the materials used in notes for three years. Printing on polymer would bring “considerable benefits,” Deputy Governor Charlie Bean said, noting resistance to dirt and the ability to include “windows” or clear portions that make counterfeiting more difficult. The BOE will run the public consultation until Nov. 15.

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